A record crowd for a women’s match in the UK were at Headingley on Sunday to watch St Helens seal the treble with victory over Leeds Rhinos in the Grand Final. “We’re only going to get bigger, better, faster and quicker,” player of the match Chantelle Crowl said
It is not unusual for St Helens to be selling a significant amount of replica shirts with the name ‘Cunningham’ printed on the back of them.
But a sign of how times are changing is that these days it is not so much in honour of Keiron, the iconic hooker regarded as one of the club’s greats who has a statue outside Totally Wicked Stadium, but more because of the impact his namesake and women’s team star Jodie is having.
This year’s Woman of Steel has become one of the most recognisable players in the Women’s Super League and on Sunday skippered Saints to treble glory as they defeated Leeds Rhinos 28-0 in the Grand Final.
Cunningham is not the only member of her team, or indeed the competition as a whole, who is becoming a household name though and St Helens head coach Derek Hardman has noticed how the profile of his team has risen with the increase in attention being paid to women’s rugby league.
“Only the last few weeks, we’ve shirt sales at the club with people like ‘Cunningham’ with the back – It’s a great name at our club and now Jodie is going to take that on,” Hardman said.
“We’ve had girls messaging on social media asking for autographs, girls have been asked for their boots today and there’s this great razzmatazz with people now and that’s great for the game.
“We’ve written our own history this year and I don’t think we’ve been in the shadow of the men. As one club, we’re very happy and proud of what we do – and that starts from the top down.”
Jodie Cunningham picked it up from her own half and flew through the Leeds defence to extend St Helens’ lead
“It was unreal,” Crowl said. “It was the first time I’d been on a pitch and I can’t hear the ref.
“The chants and the people behind us and even the Leeds supporters, everyone there was amazing, and it gave us that boost to go on and put in a performance like that.
“We’re only going to get bigger, better, faster and quicker, so be prepared for next year.”
Lois Forsell, the Leeds head coach who played the inaugural Women’s Super League season with Bradford Bulls in 2017 before switching to the Rhinos, has seen just how far the competition has come from those early days.